CHENNAI: One among the many Siva temples in Kumbakonam is the well-known shrine dedicated to Nageshwara Svami originally called Thirukilkottam. It is one of the two hundred and seventy five Padal Petra Sthalam or Siva temples wherein the deity has been praised by the Nayanmars (important Siva devotees). Appar (Thirunavukkarasar), the famous Nayanar, visited this temple in the 7th century A D. It is likely that the structure was originally of brick and converted into stone in the early Chola times.
The deity is said to have been worshipped by Nagaraja, the king of serpents. It is believed that Surya, the Sun God, regained his lustre here which he had lost due to a curse and hence this sacred place is called Bhaskara Kshetra (Bhaskara is another name for Surya). The sun’s rays fall on the Siva Linga on the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth days of the Tamil month of Chittirai (mid-April to mid-May).
This temple is known for its exquisite sculptures. The niches on the outer walls of the principal sanctum and the ardha-mandapa have images of Dakshinamurti, Ardhanarishwara, Brahma, Bhikshatana and Durga. In addition, there are unique sculptures of men and women of outstanding workmanship in several niches. Like some other early Chola temples in places like Pullamangai and Punjai, the Nageshwara Svami temple too has miniature sculptures, with intricate details, depicting various episodes from the Ramayana. The Nataraja sanctum in this temple is like a chariot drawn by horses and is dated to the 12th century AD. The wheels of this shrine are superbly carved.
There are many inscriptions in this temple. An 8th century record dates to the reign of the Pandya king Maranjadaiyan, who has been identified with scholars as Jatila Parantakan Nedunjadaiyan. Some Chola inscriptions can be assigned to Aditya, the elder brother of Rajaraja Chola I, Uttama Chola, the immediate predecessor of Rajaraja I, a few to Rajaraja I and Rajendra Chola I. Some later epigraphs are also there.
The sacred tree here is the Vilvam (Bilva)
The temple tank is called Surya Tirtham
The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture